The Lakeview Mall Fall Fashion Show was the next weekend, and that afternoon, I had to go to a meeting about the rehearsal schedule. When I got to Kopf's, it was in the midst of a typically hectic Saturday, complete with an in-store appearance by a pop singer named Jenny Reef, who was doing a promotion with, of all things, Mooshka Surfwear. The juniors department was packed with girls, a long line snaking all the way back to lingerie while a bouncy pop song played on a constant loop from a nearby boom box.
I turned around, and there was Mallory Armstrong. She was smiling big and coming toward me at a fast clip, her progress impeded somewhat by the poster, CD, and camera she was carrying. Following behind her at a more leisurely pace was her mom, whom I recognized from the day I'd dropped Owen at his house. "Hi!" Mallory said. "I can't believe it—are you a Jenny Reef fan, too?"
"Um," I said as another throng of girls rushed past us to get in line, "not really. I had to come in for a meeting…"
"For the Models?"
"Yeah," I said, "actually. We have this fashion show next weekend."
"The Fall Fashion Show. I know! I'm so excited, I'm totally coming," she said. "Can you believe Jenny Reef is, like, here? She signed my poster!"
She unrolled it so I could see. Sure enough, there was Jenny Reef, looking very surferesque and Californian, posing on a beach. There was a guitar stuck in the sand on one side of her, a surfboard on the other. Written beneath it, in black sharpie, it said: to mallery. hang ten with me and Mooshka Surfwear. love, jenny.
"Wow," I said as her mom walked up to us. "That's cool." ,
"And I got a free CD and a picture!" Mallory said, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet. "I wanted to get a Mooshka T-shirt, too, but…"
"But you already have a thousand T-shirts," her mom finished for her. Looking at her, I could see where Owen got his height: She was taller than me, with dark hair pulled back at the neck, and was wearing jeans and a knitted pullover. I took a quick glance at her shoes, noting that they were not pointy, and wondered if they were vegan. "Hi," she said to me. "I'm Teresa Armstrong. And you are?"
"Mom!" Mallory shook her head. "This is Annabel Greene, I can't believe you don't recognize her."
"I'm sorry," Mrs. Armstrong said. "Should I?"
"No," I said.
"Yes," Mallory said, turning to her mom. "Annabel's from the Kopf's commercial, the one I'm, like, obsessed with?"
"Ah," her mom said, smiling politely. "Right."
"And she's friends with Owen. Good friends."
"Really," Mrs. Armstrong said, sounding surprised. She smiled at me. "Well. That's nice."
"Annabel's in the fashion show I was telling you about next weekend," Mallory explained. To me she said, "Mom isn't very into fashion. But I'm trying to educate her."
"And I," Mrs. Armstrong said with a sigh, "am trying to get Mallory more interested in issues, and less in pop stars and clothes."
"Hard to do," I said.
"Almost impossible." She pushed her purse farther up onto her shoulder. "But I'm doing my best."
"Hello Kopf's shoppers!" a voice suddenly boomed from a speaker overhead. "Thank you for coming out today for our exclusive in-store appearance by Jenny Reef, sponsored by Mooshka Surfwear! Please join us in a few minutes, at one o'clock, when Jenny will perform her newest single, 'Becalmed,' in the Kopf's Cafe, located adjacent to the men's department. We'll see you there!"
"Did you hear that? She's performing!" Mallory grabbed her mom's hand. "We have to stay."
"We can't," Mrs. Armstrong told her. "We have to be at the women's center at one thirty for group."
"Mom," Mallory groaned. "Please not today. Please?"
"We have a mother-daughter discussion group," Mrs. Armstrong explained to me. "Once a week, we get together, six moms and six girls, and discuss issues that are pertinent to our personal growth. The group is led by this wonderful women's studies professor from the university, Boo Connell? It's really—"
"So totally boring," Mallory finished for her. "Last week I fell asleep."
"Which was very unfortunate, because the topic was menstruation," Mrs. Armstrong said. "It's a manifestation of many changes and beginnings for women… The discussion was really fascinating."
Mallory gasped. "Mom! You are not talking about getting your period with Annabel Greene!"
"Menstruation is nothing to be embarrassed about, sweetie," her mom said as Mallory flushed a deeper shade of pink. "I'm sure even models get their periods."
Mallory put a hand to her face. "Oh," she said, "my God." Then she closed her eyes, as if she wanted to disappear, or maybe was pretending she already had.
"I should go," I said, the voice coming over the loudspeaker again. "It was, um, nice to meet you."
"You, too," Mrs. Armstrong said.
I smiled at Mallory, who was still standing there looking mortified. "See you later," I said.
She nodded. "Okay. Bye, Annabel."
I started back toward the conference room. I'd only taken a couple of steps, though, when I heard Mallory hiss, "Mom, I can't believe you did that to me."
"Humiliated me like that," Mallory said. "You owe me an apology."
"Honey," Mrs. Armstrong said, sighing, "I'm really not clear on what the problem is. Maybe if you…"
I didn't get to hear the rest, as I was passing through the cosmetics department, where a mob of women were getting makeovers, and their voices drowned everything out. When I reached the conference room, though, I turned back to see Mallory and her mom were still where I'd left them. Mrs. Armstrong had squatted down in front of her daughter and was listening, nodding occasionally, as Mallory spoke.
Inside the conference room, I could hear Mrs. McMurty telling everyone to quiet down, that it was time to get started. Still, I stayed where I was a moment longer, watching as Mrs. Armstrong finally stood and she and Mallory started toward the exit. Mallory didn't look particularly happy, but when, after a few steps, her mom reached down for her fingers, she didn't pull away. Instead, she wrapped her hand around her mom's, quickening her pace, and they walked out the doors together.
When I got home later that afternoon, Whitney was out on the front steps. There was a row of four small flowerpots lined up in front of her, a bag of potting soil beside them, and she was sitting there, a small shovel in one hand, with an annoyed expression on her face.